Two years after Texas’ Republican leaders slashed family planning funding by two-thirds in an effort to put Planned Parenthood out of business, they came back to Austin with a new goal: to pass the most restrictive abortion regulations in the nation. Gov. Rick Perry, on the heels of a failed presidential bid, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who’d just lost a bruising U.S. Senate bid to Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz, had conservative credentials to bolster.
Anticipating what was in store, we prepared a full-court press: Editors pushed the Legislature, for the first time ever, to allow The Texas Tribune to livestream all House and Senate proceedings via our Youtube channel. Reporters covered every middle-of-the-night hearing, every emotional protest, every formal proceeding on bills to ban abortion after 20 weeks of gestation and make it next to impossible for existing abortion doctors and clinics to continue to offer the procedure. When lawmakers couldn’t get the legislation through during the regular session and Perry called them back to try again in an emergency session, we anticipated drama. What we got that night was all-out chaos.
First came the 13-hour abortion filibuster by Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis, which the Tribune liveblogged gavel to gavel, and which, if not for our livestream, may never have caught the nation’s attention. While cable news channels analyzed the caloric impact of blueberry muffins, our filibuster livestream went viral; by midnight and into its eleventh hour, we had close to 200,000 concurrent viewers from 187 countries. As our reporters captured the late-night fireworks — Republican legislators using parliamentary tricks to successfully derail Davis’ filibuster — Tribune videographers with de facto satellite backpacks used Ustream to transmit live feeds of thousands of protesters inside the Capitol screaming so loud lawmakers couldn’t vote before the clock ran out.
The Tribune didn’t stop there; reporters worked all night to produce political analysis and video packages for partner TV stations and newspapers across the state. In the coming weeks, the Tribune exhaustively covered yet another special legislative session, culminating in more protests, more political brawls and the eventual passage of the abortion restrictions. And in the aftermath of the bill’s passage, Tribune reporters, news apps developers and video editors exposed state records that refuted the premise behind the new regulations, and told the stories of women whose abortions were canceled.
In the months following the filibuster, which propelled Davis into the national spotlight (and her current bid for governor), the Trib used its livestreaming model to launch a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising more than $80,000 to purchase the equipment to establish our own Texas politics livestreaming channel, which we kicked off in early 2014.
We also produced a series called The Politics of Prevention, which documents the looming legal battle over Texas’ new abortion restrictions and the ongoing effects of the state’s family planning policies on contraception and cancer-screening programs for low-income women.
In short, the Tribune was there when no one else was. And smart planning, dogged reporting and good instincts paid off in a big way on deadline.